Much may have been made of the government’s announcement of an insurance of Rs 50 lakh for frontline healthcare workers fighting the pandemic—some states even announced top-ups over the amount—but a recent Supreme Court order exposes the ugly truth about the apathy healthcare workers in the country are having to put up with. Four states—Maharashtra, Punjab, Tripura and Karnataka—and the National Capital Territory of Delhi have not been paying salaries of doctors and healthcare workers on time. More deplorable, in some cases, the wages were delayed as the period of quarantine was treated as leave. Delhi and Maharashtra account for a third of the Covid-19 cases in the country, and Karnataka’s growth of cases is double the national average.
While the Supreme Court has ordered that pending salaries of healthcare workers be paid within a week, the apathy towards them is a chronic ailment. Indeed, the Delhi government had recently issued an order that effectively blamed medical staff of negligence when they contracted Covid-19; it asked them to exlpain how they contracted the disease—was it because they didn’t ‘maintain safe distance’, were not wearing PPE, etc? The circular may have been withdrawn, but the attitude remained. States must realise that the healthcare infrastructure and personnel were already stretched thin before Covid-19; the least they can do to support healthcare workers is pay their wages on time.